Friday, March 29, 2024

The Arts and Crafts Movement and Prairie House Architecture--A Uniquely American Design


The later half of the 1800s saw the emergence of a new aesthetic movement that spread around the globe. Conventional styles of home building and decorating that had become characterized by the Industrial Revolution lost favor for it's very blandness. Now the public's taste harkened back to standards of design that emphasized natural beauty and personalized, handcrafted workmanship. 

The individualized style which followed and came to be known as the Arts and Crafts movement, was chiefly inspired by William Morris, an English reformer, poet, and designer. In 1861 he founded a firm of interior decorators and manufacturers dedicated to recapturing the spirit and quality of medieval craftsmanship. Eventually, decorating ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement broadened and became infused with ideas that spread to other countries and became identified with the growing international interest in design, specifically with Art Nouveau.

In 1887, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was formed in London to promote the exhibition of decorative arts alongside fine arts. Along with hosting annual exhibitions at the New Gallery, it also published Arts and Crafts Essays written by the society's members, including Mr. Morris, who unfortunately passed away on the opening day of its 5th exhibition year.

The Arts and Crafts movement grew at odds with the argument that such designs were practical in the modern world. But as more people flocked to the movement, practicality combined with beauty and inspiration, and demand for more aestetic styles grew.

Once the movement reached American shores and came to rest in Chicago, a new type of architect and architecture rose to meet the Arts and Crafts philosophy.


If you've noticed or lived in a home built in a way that emphasizes clean horizontal lines and flat or hipped roofs with broad, overhanging eaves; and one that incorporates natural materials such as brick, wood, and stone, then you've likely discovered a model of a Prairie School home. The Prairie School style was the first architectural style to be considered uniquely American. It's name was derived by historians and critics who noted that the design seemed influenced by the landscape (wide, flat prairies) and plant life (natural wood and stone) of the Midwestern prairie.

The most credited architect for developing the Prairie School style was Frank Lloyd Wright, though many others followed. Wright designed not only the house, but also the interior lighting, windows, rugs, furniture, and textiles, tying the entire piece into an artform. One of his designs which is now a National Historic Landmark is the Frederick C. Robie House on the campus of the University of Chicago. Built in 1910, it is considered by many to be the quintessential example of a Prairie School home.

Frederick C. Robie House - Photo Wikipedia Commons

The Prairie School style spread extensively beyond the building of homes. Today you can see it in a plethora of buildings from banks to churches. But still the most famous and creative use was in homes. Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece "Fallingwater", a house built over a waterfall in rural Pennsylvania, has been voted "The Best All-Time Work of American Architecture".

Fallingwater - Image by lachrimae72 from Pixabay

The Arts and Crafts movement also influenced other another style of home-building across America with the rise of the popular Craftsman House, a bungalow home that is an offshoot of the Prairie Style home. You can read about them in Denise Weimer's 2019 HHH series here:  

Arts and Crafts has enjoyed a resurgence in recent decades. While design styles continually change, we all seem to have within us a desire to create beauty around us in some form or another, whether though furnishings, art, clothing, jewelry, or gardens and landscapes. We are all creatives, made in the image of our Great Creator. The broadness of what that means never ceases to amaze me!

Creating with you,

Art Nouveau influences Polly's style in Book One of the Apron Strings series when she turns her grandfather's Victorian house into a fashionable ladies tea room, combining many elements of beauty. But will the meddlesome tavern owner down the street ruin the respectability of her business, or is there more to him than meets the eye?


  1. We always referred to the Prairie School design as the Frank Lloyd Wright design. While we lived in Aurora Illinois the library was a Frank Lloyd Wright design. Then a new one was built. The original was placed on the National Register. I'm a bit of a traditionalist and don't care for walls of windows. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That's what we called them in Wisconsin too. I only grew up knowing about "the house on the rock". I'm with you. I find them interesting, but not to my personal taste. When I first heard the term, I thought it meant something completely different. Haha!

  2. Thank you for posting today. Referring back to Denise's posts was a brilliant idea! There are things I love about the Craftsman style, and Frank Lloyd Wright's houses are amazing to look at. I prefer a more simple aesthetic, myself.

    1. Yes, I agree with you. Very interesting. Incredibly creative in many ways, but I'm much more traditional in my tastes.